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Rabbits/Rabbit bonding and rabbit aggression

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I am writing to ask for advice regarding my bunny Nami, a 9-month old Holland Lop. Nami has free range in the studio apartment my boyfriend and I share. At times we have limited her access to the kitchen (its in a separate room) and she is not allowed in the walking closet and bathroom. In addition to going about the house, Nami has a large wooden cage that holds her litter box, food, and water. Up to now we only leave her in there when we need to clean or do things around the house. Nami’s personality is very active and she loves attention. She investigates and bites everything, looooves food, and also loves being petted —but does not like being picked up. Up to now she had not shown aggression even when put in uncomfortable situations like car rides.

Because we are busy but Nami loves attention so much, we decided to get her a companion. We chose Luffy, a baby Holland Lop that came home last Saturday night. My boyfriend and I chose a baby because we really care about the rabbit’s personality and wanted to raise him. When we initially adopted Luffy we were told he was 10 weeks old, but later found out he just turned 8 weeks yesterday. Luffy is the most relaxed bunny I have ever seen. He was initially shy, but seems to enjoy being held and even just sitting by us. Luffy has less motor control than name did when she was his age. His jumps are kind of clumsy whereas Nami would jump and stand on two legs from the time we got her (8 weeks).

So, we brought Luffy home on Saturday night. After getting him set up in a cage, we allowed Nami in the kitchen to see him. At first she smelled around but could find where the new smell was coming from. Eventually she found him and tried to bite him but we weren’t super concerned because it looked like she was trying to figure out what he was; she didn’t launch at him or anything. Anyways, after that we ushered her out. Later that night we put Luffy on our bed, which is in the main room where Nami stays. Luffy peed on my boyfriend and on the bed covers. Later on that night Nami bit my boyfriend’s thigh where Luffy had peed. The next day she bit my leg when she smelled that I had touched the other rabbit.

We had done some reading on bonding rabbits but of course overlooked some things and made several mistakes. We know she feels that the new rabbit is invading her territory and that there is jealousy when she can smell him on us. We are trying to amend those mistakes by keeping her in the main room and him in the kitchen, by washing our hands after handling him, and by letting her sniff us when we go from one room to the next.

However, her behavior has changed drastically towards us. She launches at our feet when we walk around the room and specially when we move from the kitchen to the main room. Yesterday she went into attack mode when we tried cleaning her cage and almost seemed like she wanted to jump on the bed to attack. Today we haven’t even handled the baby bunny and while I was petting her she all of a sudden launched towards me as if to bite. We have been trying stomping, yelling No! or Ahhhh so she gets the idea that the behavior is not okay. She has also been marking her territory pooping and peeing around the room even on the bed skirt.

As far as bonding is concerned, we have the following plan. Avoid intercrossing items from one rabbit to the other except for a surrogate toy. We would put the toy with each rabbit then switch them so each rabbit can get used to the other rabbit’s smell and take whatever aggression there is out on the toy. We plan to wait a month before introducing the two since Luffy is so little. Then we would introduce them by putting the two cages side by side, then letting her come up to his cage. Finally, we would let them get to meet in neutral territory at my grandparents’ house. That is the plan we would like to follow, but now we have several concerns.

First of all, we are wondering if it would be possible to continue working through this and eventually bond the two rabbits. If that is not possible and giving away Luffy would bring Nami back to her usual self, we would be more than happy to do that. However, she seems to be getting so out of hand that we are wondering if these habits will stay. We worry she will be hostile if we have any other pets or small children. We live in a small space so there is no other room for her to go in except her cage, which would be too small for her to be there always. Also, I have anxiety (which the Nami used to help me with) but now it has been getting worse due to Nami’s attitude.

I am sorry this is so long. Do you have any advice of what we should/should not do? Do you think Nami’s behavior can be changed in our situation? Should we give up on bonding the rabbits, or is there hope? Any reply would be greatly appreciated.

My best,

- Susy Gomez

Answer
Hi Susy-

It certainly sounds like you have your hands full! What a difficult situation you have found yourself in.

First of all, is Nami spayed? Altering rabbits greatly increases the likelyhood that they will bond, especially does who are extremely territorial. Nami is sexually mature and if she has never been bred, she is extremely hormonal. Anything invading her territory will lead to drastic personality changes.

It is possible to continue working through this, but I would offer three major suggestions:

1) Consider spaying Nami and eventually neutering Luffy. Altered rabbits enjoy the companionship of other rabbits, however most unaltered rabbits prefer to be alone unless breeding.

2) Stop punishing Nami for defending her territory. Obviously you should avoid the biting if at all possible, but she is expressing her deep concern that something is very wrong in her territory. She is biting you not so much out of jealousy, which is a human emotion, but expressing herself the only way she knows how to tell you *something is wrong!* If you punish her by locking her away, spanking, or yelling etc, you are only increasing her uneasiness- in a way you are telling her she is correct, that something IS very wrong. If her behavior is aggressive or defensive, walk away. If she is wanting pets and cuddles, she will quickly learn the best way to seek those out is to be calm and content and not bite.

3) Continue to keep the two apart. Brush Luffy, and scatter his hair in Nami's cage and around her food dish. Do the same with Nami's hair and Luffy's area. Continue to swap toys and bedding, getting them acclimated to each other's scent. Be patient!! It will take some time to bond them.

Again, I highly suggest altering them!

Good luck!!

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Shawn Evans

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I can answer questions regarding ARBA, showing rabbits, genetic diseases and faults, medical care, raising meat rabbits, questions regarding different breeds, questions regarding diet, questions regarding color and color hereditary traits (breeding for color and pattern) and general questions about rabbits.

Experience

I am currently a breeder and exhibitor of English Lops and Tans in ARBA and have raised several breeds. I have both indoor rabbits and an outdoor rabbitry. I have raised rabbits for meat, and I have raised rabbits for top show competitions. I am especially well versed in color genetics and have written several articles regarding color and hereditary traits.

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American Rabbit Breeders Association American Tan Association Lop Rabbit Club of America North Carolina Rabbit Breeders Association

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www.lilypatchfarm.com

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Bachelor of Animal Sciences/Husbandry with a strong focus in genetics.

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